Down the Road with David Shultz (Part One: The Early Years to Sinner’s Gold)

by | Sep 24, 2009 | MUSIC

When I think of David Shultz as a songwriter, one word that strikes me is familiar. Familiar in the sense that I can hear a new song or an old song and it reminds me of a place.

When I think of David Shultz as a songwriter, one word that strikes me is familiar. Familiar in the sense that I can hear a new song or an old song and it reminds me of a place. It could be a basement where our favorite songs were played. It could be the long walks home after making the best or worst decisions of our lives. It encompasses the moments that may appear as a long stretch of pictures, show flyers and seasons; all of which are engrained in our memories as defining who we are and what we desire.

While listening to “Crazy Distances” off of his new record Rain in to the Sea, all I can think about is familiarity as it closes out the album. The song feels like a love letter to this city and the people that embody it. Subsequently, giving the city it’s charm and character. A song that we can all share and call our own.
In a perfect world, there would be thousands upon thousands of conversations that constantly revolved around David Shultz’s songs. Lucky for me, I had the opportunity to sit down with David and discuss the songs that continue to act as a soundtrack for many of us.
Shannon Cleary: I’ll just let this run for a while. For a first question, I figured this would be a great way to start off in explaining the beginning of David Shultz. One of my favorite memories of a show you played was in the basement of Mat Shelton’s place. You had Michael Otley play two songs prior to your set and the Mermaid Skeletons followed you. You said something that I really enjoyed which was “why wouldn’t I play my favorite song?” Based on that, when did you first encounter Graceland by Paul Simon and how did that assist you in your development as an artist?

David Shultz: Well, that whole album is something I grew up with because my Mom would always play it while she was vacuuming and cleaning the house. It wasn’t something I really paid any attention to until I was probably fifteen or sixteen. And even then it was still just a cassette of Graceland. I would just listen to the sound of it. I thought the record sounded good but it wasn’t until maybe I was seventeen when I started reading the lyrics. I wore out the cassette panels with the lyrics and stuff. Graceland seemed so perfect. After years of having listened to it and being exposed to it, I saw the way it starts. It has the most beautiful patience to it and the opening lyrics caught me off-guard the first time I really noticed it. I guess the first time I paid attention to it I realized I had never really heard a song that started like that. It got me even more into Paul Simon’s pop songwriting.

With you and songwriting in general, is that kind of an all-time goal for you? The goal being, to create something that is that perfect in your eyes?

Shultz: Yeah, that’s the fun part. You’ll never get that good, but you can always try. But I mean with Graceland, whether you’re referring to the song or the album. To me, it is so beautifully written and beautifully recorded. It’s great to have something you’ll never be able to touch and it helps to keep working. That’s just kind of a mark you always kind of aim for. It kind of puzzles you and it keeps you motivated.

When was it when you first started to do open mic nights at Chuggers?

Shultz: (laughs) I don’t know if I was twenty-one yet or not. I feel like I must have been twenty. I couldn’t quite go in there and get beers. I was twenty years old. I suppose I was a sophomore or a junior at VCU. But it also corresponded with the time that I dropped out of school when I started to play music more. I was like a junior for three years (laughs). At least until I came back, but I was at least twenty years old when I first started playing open mic nights. Before I started, I staked out the scene for like three months and watched other people play songs. I thought it was something I could do. So I just walked on down to Chuggers from Grace Street and just played. It was the weirdest thing. It was somewhat unexpected in me, at least to the people who knew me. I was just writing songs and going to play them.

Was there anyone you had the opportunity to meet during those experiences? When I did a past interview with Jonathan Vassar, he mentioned to me how his first experiences with shows were like. In the sense, that his peers were Chris Terry, Liza Kate and Josh Small. I didn’t know if through this experience with open mic nights, did you have the opportunity to meet a few individuals that would eventually become your musical peers?

Shultz: I had a different experience, but I did have a crew. It was an open mic night crew. They were pretty good songwriters and singers. They were all really cool like this guy Casey Kennedy and this guy Matt something or another. They weren’t doing anything like what I was doing. So I met all of these people at Chuggers that were playing cover songs and doing a straight up open mic night thing. So I think they noticed me pretty quickly with how I was writing my own songs. They were a really fun crew that I met. I don’t really see them anymore except at the bank. Ryan was a really good friend of mine and he’s a minister now.


From that point, when did a correspondence begin between you and Triple Stamp Records?

Shultz: Well, it was Wil Loyal, Adrienne Brown and Chris Carroll. I just met Wil through playing a show with Anousheh Khalili at Twisters. It may have been the Nanci Raygun by then. I believe I was looking at Triple Stamp’s website and I thought the artwork looked really cool. I think they even said that if you had a demo, you should bring it by Jean Jacques Bakery, which is where Wil worked at the time. I thought that was pretty cool. I brought them a demo. I’ve known Wil for a while though. It may have even been back in 2004. I still may have been at the tail end of my open mic night days.

After you became involved with the label, is that when you started to work towards your self-titled release?

Shultz: Yep, I basically already had a demo that I recorded with my brother Kenny (Shultz). We called it The Tree EP. “Blue Jay,” “The Flaws,” and “Tones” which were on my first album were on this EP. I gave that to Wil. He hooked me up with Allen Bergendahl. Wil basically told me that was who we recorded with. So I was like, “Alright, cool.” It felt like the better part of a month. It happened every night while I was still in school. Allen would pick me up every night and then we would go to the studio. It was the first time that I had ever recorded that many songs for a record like that.

The band on that record is Matt Morton, Marcus Shrock and your brother, right?

Shultz: Matt, Marcus, Kenny and Me. When you listen to that record, there is not a lot on that album. It’s pretty stripped down. I don’t think Allen or anyone else played anything. Kenny came in and played keys.

I guess the next puzzle piece to this whole story was the addition of lead guitarist Curtis Patton. I’ve always really enjoyed the story as to how he ended up in the band. Do you mind retelling it?

Shultz: Liza Kate and I played at Ipanema. I think I was just standing next to this dude and I said, “Liza is really great, isn’t she?” And he was like, “Yeah…that’s my life partner.” It was something like that. On that night, the first night that I had met Curtis we got along really well. It was very random, because I don’t just meet guys at bars and talk. It usually doesn’t happen until closing time. We really got along and we were cracking up. I found out that he played guitar through our conversation and I asked him to join the band that night.


From the experience of writing and recording the Self-Titled record up until Sinner’s Gold, how did your approach to songwriting change? Also, how did the dynamic of having an actual band change things? Especially considering the obvious change in you bringing a song to a group of musicians and asking them to play this part and that part and so on.

Shultz: Yeah, that was the biggest difference. With both instances, I just wrote a bunch of songs. But with the first album, all of the instrumentation and arrangements were made up in the studio and it was without much time. With Sinner’s Gold, it was the same process of me writing songs but I had months to play with the Skyline on these songs, which I think at that point they were called the Subtle Neon Browns.

Yeah, I remember that.

Shultz: That name didn’t even end up making it on the record. It’s funny. That was the only difference. After I wrote all of these songs, I had months to just refine all of these instrumentation parts and even the way I sing songs. I think it really shows just how all of these things had more time to grow.

I feel like there was this distinct moment right before the release of Sinner’s Gold where you guys were on a bit of streak. You were invited to play the WRIR anniversary party, there were several bits of press written up about you guys and by the time of the CD release show it turned into a huge extravaganza. Due in no small part to the effort you guys put into promoting the hell out of the show. How did that affect your prowess as a musician to maybe start realizing you may have been doing something right per se?

Shultz: I guess it didn’t because it has never felt like I have been doing anything right. It didn’t then and it doesn’t now. It just made sense. We had been playing for a while. Also, when you have a band together, you have more friends who come out to the shows. I was better off now that I had the band (laughs). Now I have all of their friends coming out to the shows. I almost didn’t even notice it. I was just kind of stumbling through things anyhow, so I didn’t really notice anything. Maybe other people might have noticed things more than I would have.

I guess people with more of an outsider perspective than being in the midst of it all. Also, being removed from it all.

Shultz: Every now and then, I’ll meet someone and tell them what it is that I do for a living and they are surprised that I have a day job. It’s crazy, because maybe people notice things that I don’t even think about.

That’s a really perfect segue for something else I wanted to mention. During your time with the first two records, you were employed on the road for a considerable amount of time making deliveries and such. How did that affect your perspective and maybe in some ways your lyrical approach, because I imagine you have a lot of time to yourself and your thoughts. I imagine you probably spend a great deal of time thinking about words as well.

Shultz: Yeah, I’ve written songs while driving. I wonder if I can think of one. Like the first song on the new album “Against Nothing,” I just wrote acapella. Also, “Birthday” was a song I wrote without a guitar in front of me. It’s really cool to have all of this time on your hands, because I will just start writing stuff and hearing things. It can also be too much time and your mind falls into a rut of talk radio. Being in a vehicle is all I have done since I graduated from college. I drive vehicles for people. It can be a little much, but it can also be very liberating. It can be exhausting. It has also helped me write because I’ve flat out written songs in silence. So there are upsides to it.


Is there anything that has influenced you from the musical and literary worlds with the way that you come up with words? When it comes to music, I imagine that has more to do with how you compose your songs. But when it comes to your lyrics, is there anything you have been able to pick up from the literary world?

Shultz: Probably, I was an English major. We had a couple of classes together, right?

We had Fiction into Film and I think we took Italian together.

Shultz: Fiction into Film…who taught that again? Was it Fine?

Yeah, I think so. I just remember it being a two-week course in the summer that started at eight in the morning until noon.

Shultz: Yeah, well you just end up reading so much shit and it kind of makes it difficult. I wish I could give you a specific person. I like weird little images and I just read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. It had a lot of weirdness but then there would be these moments of clarity. I think that’s what I like about Paul Simon lyrics and even someone like Jeff Tweedy and how he writes. The story gets a little bit weird and abstract but then there are these beautiful moments of clarity. You can kind of just push all sorts of stories along if you can bust out some of the fringe of what’s going on. Then every now and then, you can nail into what you are talking about or what you are feeling. I love stories that do that and I love songs that do that. It’s messy and you don’t really even know what’s going on then every now and again it’s just straight to your gut like some moment of clarity. Who knows whether it’s movies or songs or books that inspire me to write lyrics, but anything that expresses an idea of clarity that comes out of a mess. That’s kind of how I live (laughs).

Stay tuned for part two where David and I discuss the new album, the prolific nature to his songwriting and the closest he feels he has come thus far to writing a perfect pop song.

For more information about David Shultz and the Skyline, please visit or

“Hide Me” by David Shultz and the Skyline


RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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